Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fifth after Pentecost, 2010

RCL 8C: II Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14; Luke 9: 51-62

The other week I mentioned a magazine that I remembered seeing a number of years ago called “Acts 29.” Remembering that if you run to your Bible to see what’s in Acts 29, you find yourself looking at a blank page—because the Book of Acts ends at the end of chapter 28.

But of course the point is that just because the Book of Acts ends at chapter 28, that doesn’t mean that the story of “The Acts of the Apostles” has come to an end.

The first 28 chapters of the story are full of signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit, beginning with the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, and then chapter after chapter, the raising up of great heroes and heroines of the faith, journeys of outreach and evangelistic adventure, inspiring witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior, faithful discipleship. Concluding then in Chapter 28 with St. Paul in Rome, the capital city of the world, teaching and ministering to a growing, vibrant Christian community.

And Chapter 29 of the story—this was the idea of the magazine title—is all about what comes next. What comes next: the story we write with our lives, generation after generation. The Acts of the Apostles: not the whole story, but only the beginning. God working in us to accomplish infinitely more than we could ever ask for or imagine. Not a different story, but a new chapter of the one great story, incorporating us and all the challenges and adventures of our lives—full of signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit, the raising up of great heroes and heroines of the faith, journeys of outreach and evangelistic adventure, inspiring witness to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, faithful discipleship. Acts 29.

And thinking about all that again with the two lessons appointed for us to read together this Sunday morning. From Second Kings, the exaltation and assumption of Elijah and the new beginning for Elisha. And from St. Luke, as Jesus, his face now set to Jerusalem and the last long leg of the journey to the Cross, shares with his disciples a glimpse of what is to come after. What we might call “succession narratives.” Stories about the handing on of the baton.

Elisha is the faithful disciple, step by step following his mentor and guide. And it’s interesting in the passage this morning Elijah seems to keep trying to talk him into staying behind, which we almost feel is a kind of a test. Or maybe just the offer of a graceful exit. But Elisha insists on following his master to the very end. No matter how far, no matter the cost.

They travel from Gilgal in the Northern Kingdom down to Judah and to the River Jordan. Crossing the Jordan just as the Hebrews had so long ago crossed both the Red Sea and the Jordan. Elijah dips his cloak, his mantle, into the river, and it parts before them, so that they can pass over on dry land. And then that amazing scene, the Chariot of Fire that whirls down from the heavens and sweeps Elijah away. And there is Elisha’s grief. Maybe even a moment of panic. He’s been preparing for this now for some time. But will he be up to the task? Will God bless and empower him to do this work?

Then, a deep breath, and there is a new chapter to begin. Elisha takes up that mantle of Elijah, and in this powerful moment he too strikes the water of the Jordan. “Are you with me, God? You were here for Elijah, will you be with me now?” And in dramatic confirmation, again, the waters part before him. Elijah may be gone, but that doesn’t mean God’s work is complete. A new chapter begins.

And this passage from St. Luke. Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. And these disciples, not quite sure yet how to handle the power being entrusted to them. The Samaritan village doesn’t provide hospitality to Jewish pilgrims on their way to the Holy City, and James and John think about calling in the heavenly artillery. Blast ‘em away. But Jesus turns that aside. This reaction to personal grievance. And instead reminds them of what faithfulness will cost. “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” And of the call to set the mission of the Kingdom first, above self-interest, even home and family.

It’s not some kind of magician’s wand, the mantle of Elijah. And even those first disciples of Jesus weren’t superhuman characters. Just like us. Sometimes getting it right, sometimes not. Sometimes full of energy and idealism, sometimes falling back into our own brokenness. Just people. But as Elisha followed Elijah, so James and John would follow Jesus. Sometimes getting it right, sometimes not. Needing to learn and grow. All the way to the Cross, and then to the Resurrection, and then to the Mount of the Ascension, and to Pentecost. And beyond.

What amazing things God did through Elijah first, and then through Elisha. What amazing things God does in the power of Jesus’ ministry and through his Cross and Resurrection, and then, what amazing things God does through James and John, Peter and Andrew, Stephen and Paul. The Acts of the Apostles, chapters 1-28.

And then, all the story of Acts 29. What amazing things he continues to do, all around us, among us, with us, in us.

We kneel at the altar to share the Bread of Life, and then we are sent out in peace to love and serve the Lord. And the adventure continues. All of us. God working in us, doing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 26, 2010

Holy Matrimony
Ashley Moffett and Justin Marutiak
Psalm 127

Ashley and Justin, what I want to say first to you, is thank you. It is for us all here this afternoon, and for me personally, a privilege and a joy to be sharing this moment with you, to be with you as you exchange the vows and promises, the words, and the commitments of the heart, that will make you one in Christ, as husband and wife. It’s a great day! Congratulations to you, and with so many blessings upon you as you now step forward together into this new chapter of your life.

The lesson that you selected, from the Book of the Psalms, Psalm 127, is a wonderful and very appropriate reading for this day.

It is a beautiful song, about our priorities and values of life. About how all that is truly important in our lives, the relationships and activities that enrich and support our life and make life worth living, will thrive and grow strong when built on the strong foundation of trust in the care of our heavenly Father. To know God, and most importantly to know God in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, is to be a building built on a strong foundation, a plant rooted down in rich and nourishing soil.

The psalm talks about the hard work of life. Getting up early, going to bed late, times of struggle and worry. All of it there, even as with the vows you take this afternoon, “for better, for worse, for richer for poorer.” Good times, hard times. But for all that effort to bring you true joy, happiness, peace, and fulfillment, it takes something more. Because no matter how hard we work, we can’t make that happen by our own effort. What we seek is his blessing, his encouragement, his love.

And it is my hope and prayer that as you exchange your vows today, you will as you are doing so invite Christ to be a part of this marriage and the family you will be together, the home you will make, the life you will live. Invite him to be a part of it with you, and ask for his blessing.

In the midst of this I’m reminded that in the Old Testament Book of Exodus there is one of my favorite Bible stories, about a moment of life-changing experience, a “vocational” moment, a transformational moment-- in a way kind of like a wedding. Young Moses is working for his Father in Law, tending his sheep out in the wilderness, and one day he sees something off in the distance that looks strange to him. He moves closer and finally comes to this great big tree or bush that is on fire, fully engulfed in flames, burning and burning—but no matter how long it burns, it doesn’t burn out.

He watches for a while, amazed at the sight, and then all at once a great, deep voice comes from the flame. (I like to think it was the voice of James Earl Jones.) “Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” Holy Ground.

Now, Justin and Ashley, we don’t need to take that literally, and you can keep your shoes on. But we would remember that in the vows and promises you make today, in God’s sight and with us here as your witnesses, the ground under your feet is consecrated, and made holy. That God’s holy presence is with you, surrounding you, above you, and beneath your feet, with richness and blessing.

The prayers and blessings of this day don’t just happen here, in this one moment of a wedding, but they go out with you into your marriage and life together, from this day forward, and will be around you and under you and with you all the days of your life.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fourth after Pentecost, 2010

[RCL 7C: I Kings 19, Luke 8: 26-39]

In this long season after Pentecost now we begin our reading in First Kings in the middle of the story. The great prophet Elijah has had a dramatic confrontation with the priests of Ba’al—in the story in First Kings 18, where the priests of Ba’al, who are the official Temple priests of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, build one altar, and Elijah builds the LORD another altar. Both Elijah and the priests of Ba’al offer prayers. Nothing happens on Ba’al’s altar, but at the altar Elijah dedicates to the LORD there is a mighty fire that comes down from heaven to consume the offering. Then there is disarray, and a battle, and Elijah and his men carry the day, and all the King’s priests are killed.

Elijah then runs off into the wilderness, hotly pursued by Ahab and his army. One of the great stories of this part of the Old Testament, and one we could pause over for a good deal of reflection and conversation.

But the lectionary nudges us along to this scene, Elijah having run south from Israel to Judah, alone, fearful, cut off from any support or resource. And finally under the shade of this solitary broom tree he collapses in exhaustion and despair.

At the end of his rope, we might say. His back against the wall. Even in the hardest of circumstances he has been faithful to his calling as a prophet of the LORD. But now that road seems to have come to an end. Perhaps he had thought that the confrontation with the priests of Ba’al would usher in a mighty supernatural revolution, overturning the power of the king. But that didn’t happen, and now he is alone, and without prospects for a better day. Without hope.

And then, this moment, as he reclines in the shade of the tree. At the extreme edge of his desperation, there appears to him, suddenly, the Angel of the LORD. And the miraculous gift of that loaf of bread, the jar of water. To restore his strength, to nourish his body, and most importantly of all to nourish his soul with a visible sign that God continues to be with him, that God continues to have a plan and a purpose for his life.

And then of course that wonderful concluding image, set at Sinai, where Moses had spoken with God in ancient days and received the gift of the Torah—as now Elijah opens his ears to hear the LORD’s fresh word, which comes to him not in the drama of the great wind, not in the rumble of the earthquake, but in the still, small voice, a whispering.

And there is for Elijah a deep healing. Courage and fortitude. Strength, resolve. The restoration and renewal of his life and purpose. And God gives him his next set of marching orders—and off he goes.

As we hear this story, perhaps it makes sense as well to hear as the second reading the story in St. Luke of Jesus in the Land of the Gerasenes. He encounters this man. About whom we know almost nothing. But we see him too as eerily familiar, as someone at the end of his rope. Naked, homeless, tormented by his inner demons.

We can only guess at what those demons might be, though perhaps in our own lives we may all have met and had to wrestle with demons of our own. They have thoroughly overwhelmed him, cost him everything, every relationship, everything of value, every sign and symbol of his place in the family of humanity. Some of us anyway might know something about those kinds of demons. At the end of his rope. A man without hope. So beyond any expectation that the sudden appearance of Jesus and his disciples calls forth in him only fear of further pain.

Why are you bothering me here? Another pious preacher out to wag a finger in my direction and use me as a sermon illustration of what happens when you get on the wrong side of God? I’ve seen your type before, Jesus. Just go away and leave me alone with my tormentors . . . .

And then, so quickly we don’t even see how he does it, Jesus says a word, perhaps, and we have the odd story of the demons rushing off into the nearby herd of pigs. But that’s not really the central image we would hold onto from this story. Rather this, in the thirty-fifth verse of the eighth chapter, and just think how powerful this is: “when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind.” If we’ve known demons of one sort or another, destroying the lives of those we love; or if we’ve been their ourselves. I wonder if one of those coming to Jesus at this moment might have been this man’s mother or father, a wife, a sister, an old friend. “When they came to Jesus they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind.”

The dawn of a new morning, after a dark and stormy night that had seemed destined to last forever.

These are two lessons this morning for people who know what it might mean to feel, at some point or other of our lives, that we’re at the end of our rope. That the road has run into a dead end, a brick wall. That we’ve wrestled our demons for as long as we could, day after day, year after year, until finally we’ve given up and let them move in and take over the operation of the establishment of our lives.

And maybe for all of us, whether we’re at a place like that now, or have been, or wonder if some day we might be. End of the rope; back against the wall.

Maybe for all of us: the loaf of bread and jar of water. Refreshment. Or the image of that young man. Dressed, composed. In his right mind. Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. Images that we might take with us this morning as we approach this Holy Table. Which is a meal of deep healing. The strongest medicine there is. Bread of Heaven, Cup of Salvation.

What I like to say for babies and young people and the newly baptized of any age, at the celebration of baptism, when the anointing with oil reminds us of the old story of Samuel finding and anointing the young David. “God has great things in mind for you.”

And that is true, true for all of us. As we may live in a throw-away society, but for God, not one of us is expendible. He knows us and he loves us, and from the moment we first draw breath until we fall asleep in him at the end of our days, we are precious to him. And as we call upon him, he answers, with the promise of healing and new life.

That is fundamentally what the Cross is about, and where we stand this June morning. God gives himself, for our healing. For our new life. To show that there is no wilderness far enough away from him, no demon powerful enough to keep him away. All forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Remembering what Jesus said to his disciples: “I will not leave you comfortless.” "Come unto me, all ye who travail, and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”

And we would open our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts, to receive this gift.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guest Preacher: The Very Rev. John Park

Our Guest Preacher at St. Andrew's on Sunday morning, June 13, was the Very Rev. John Park, Dean of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Lima, Peru, and a mission partner of St. Andrew's and of our Five Talents Prayer Circle. He and his wife Susan also led our 10 a.m. "Coffee and Conversation" hour, with a great report of their ministry in Lima. Here is Dean Park's sermon:

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Good morning. Susan and I are very glad to be back with you today at St Andrew’s, and I thank Bruce for this opportunity to preach to you and to tell you a little bit about our work in Peru.

For those of you who may not know or may not remember from our previous visits here, Susan and I are from Western Pennsylvania, both having been reared here. I was born and reared in Beaver Falls, and I am a priest of this diocese, as I have been since my ordination 25 years ago next month. Most of my ordained ministry has been spent in Honduras, but for the past six years, Susan and I have been SAMS missionaries in Lima, Peru, where I am the dean of the Anglican Cathedral.

Our work in Lima is quite different from what we were doing in Honduras. In Honduras, my work was at least 95% in Spanish, while in Lima it is much more in English. In Honduras we worked much more in small towns and villages. In Lima we are working in a city of almost 10,000,000 people!

In Honduras, most of my work was with the poor. The Cathedral in Lima is a middle- to upper-middle-class congregation. Until less than ten years ago, it was completely English speaking, but we now have a Spanish-language congregation as well, and the working language for congregational and vestry meetings has changed from English to Spanish.

Preaching the Gospel in the context of a cathedral in the capital city of a country has great privileges and responsibilities. Because we are one of the very few English-speaking churches in the city, there are a number of diplomats who are regular attenders, and quite a few more attend on occasion. I am also called upon to represent the church at a number of diplomatic functions.

The Cathedral used to be a cultural centre for the English-speaking community. But times have changed, and virtually everyone now has access to cable TV and the internet, which keep people in touch with what’s going on at home, and many no longer see a need to come to the Good Shepherd to keep up their “Englishness” or their “Americanness.”

However, we have been making the Cathedral facilities available to those groups in the community who would like to use them, one of which is an amateur theatre troupe, which has a couple of presentations each year in our hall. We also hold a bazaar and several used book sales every year, one of which was yesterday. These serve a dual purpose. While they help to pay the bills, they bring people in and get them acquainted with the Cathedral. This is one way that we do evangelism.

We would also like to be a neighbourhood church, but there is one problem: we are in an affluent area, and most of the residential properties are surrounded by high fences or walls, so that it is virtually impossible to do door-to-door evangelism. What we do instead is to hold events in the cathedral and invite people to come by leaving flyers at all the residences in the area.

When we return after this home ministry assignment, we will be starting the Alpha Course again. Just before we left Lima, a Peruvian priest, Fr Juan Carlos Marcés joined the staff of the Cathedral. He had run the Alpha Course successfully in his former church, and he will be directing Alpha for both the Cathedral and the Diocese as a part of his ministry. And we will blanket the neighbourhood with flyers to invite people to come.

Once a month we have Health Sunday. We have a parish nurse, and for several years we have been checking blood sugar, blood pressure, and weight after the main English service. Then two years ago, after a Lenten series on healing, we began to have prayers for healing during the main English service on that Sunday. And in March, the Spanish-language congregation began doing the same. And we have seen a number of healings as a result.

When we first arrived, there was no Christian Education programme at the Cathedral, and there were only two children in the church. We began an English Sunday School with those two, and it has brought in young families, so that we now have two classes of differing age groups for the children.

In November Fr Ian Montgomery, a retired English priest from Wisconsin, joined the staff of the Cathedral. We changed our service schedule in March, and as a result he was able to start an adult forum in the hour before the main English service, which has been quite successful. He also led a good Lenten study programme this year, as a result of which at least one small group is forming.

We are in a growing diocese. When Susan and I arrived almost six years ago, there were fewer than 20 churches. Today we count more than 50 congregations, not all of which are organized yet, but all of which have weekly services. And in March we elected Fr Mike Chapman as suffragan bishop. It is expected that he will be a missionary bishop who will begin work in an area several hours south of Lima, where work started after the 7.2 earthquake three years ago.

And at the Cathedral we are also planning in helping to grow new congregations in the diocese. One of our lay ministers, Juan Carlos Celis, has been serving San Patricio, Ventanilla, a mission congregation in the very northern part of Lima, two and a half hours by bus from the Cathedral. He is there every weekend and several nights a week, the nights he is not taking seminary classes.

When the current Cathedral was built 61 years ago, most of the English speakers in Lima were living close by. Now, many of them have moved farther out to La Molina, a newer area. We are planning that Fr Juan Carlos Marcés, who as I mentioned is new to the Cathedral, will start a new work there once we return, a church that, like the Cathedral, will be bilingual and bicultural.

Susan and I have been sent to Lima by SAMS. When we first started with SAMS, there were about 25 missionaries serving mostly in Latin America as the name—South American Missionary Society—implied. But God kept opening doors in other parts of the world with people who wanted to be missionaries under SAMS.

After much prayer and discernment, SAMS changed its name to the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders, keeping the same initials, S-A-M-S but reflecting that we now have more than 70 missionaries and candidates serving not only in Latin America, but also North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. It also emphasizes that we are partners; both missionaries and senders. We could not go without you to send us and you would not have anyone to send if there were not missionaries.

We have been your missionaries now for several years and we pray for you regularly. Your prayers and financial support strengthen and sustain us. Thank you for partnering with us. We need to raise all our own support for all our expenses. We have continued to cut our budget down, recognizing that many people are in difficult circumstances. But we need to know that our giving should not be based on what we have, but on who God is, who we are in him, and what he can do.

We hope that you will continue your financial support. We are also very happy that some of you have supported us individually, and we hope that you will continue as well, and that more may do so. Tax-deductible contributions for our ministry in Peru may be made to SAMS. You might even want to visit us there. I know that a couple of you were down there very recently, but unfortunately we were up here and were not able to receive you. But if you come when we are there, we have a large house, and you are welcome to stay with us. Just don’t all come at the same time, please. The house isn’t quite that big.

But you might want to consider sending down a team to help Five Talents or us with our ministry in Peru. The Diocese of Peru is always open to receiving mission groups, and we can easily find you suitable accommodation, just not all in our house. In fact, that is part of Susan’s job in the Diocese: to coordinate the work teams that come.

In today’s Readings, we saw two cases of persons having their sins forgiven. In the First Reading, from II Samuel, David had sinned greatly, first having committed adultery with Bathsheba (who was later to be the mother of Solomon), and then in order to cover up that sin, having ordered the murder of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband. But when confronted with his sins by Nathan the prophet, David confesses, asks for forgiveness, and receives it.

As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most powerful stories in the entire Bible. David is one of the greatest characters in the entire Bible, the King of the united kingdom of all the tribes of Israel, a great warrior, a great believer in God. But he was also a great sinner. It has been said that in order to be a great saint, one must be a great sinner, and David certainly fits that description. The sins of adultery and accessory to murder that he committed were certainly great sins. And he thought that he had got away with them, that is until Nathan the prophet came to see him and called him out.

Doesn’t Nathan set him up perfectly? First he tells him the story of the rich man who stole his poor neighbour’s pet lamb, his only lamb, in order to feed a guest, when he had plenty of sheep of his own. David suspects nothing and declares that the rich man ought to die and orders that he repay the stolen lamb four times over. And then Nathan stands there before his king, points his finger at him, and says, “YOU are the man!” Can you imagine how David must have felt then? He had been found out. And he repents. And because he repents, his sin is forgiven, and his punishment is lessened. You see, even when sin is forgiven, it still brings consequences, both in this life and the next.

In today’s Second Reading we have the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, anoints them with an expensive ointment, and then dries them with her hair. Remember that in Jesus’ time, people did not wear shoes, and there were no paved sidewalks on which to walk. This meant that people’s feet got very dirty from walking in dusty and muddy streets, so it was a common courtesy to have a servant or slave wash visitors’ feet when they arrived, something which Simon the Pharisee did not do. He hadn’t even greeted Jesus with a kiss, which was the minimum greeting to a guest in one’s house.

But this was the service that the sinful woman was doing for Jesus, washing his feet. And the implication was that she was a prostitute, as that is what the word “sinner” implies. So here was this prostitute, washing and anointing Jesus’ feet, and in so doing showing how repentant she was of her sins. And so Jesus forgives her her sins.

This is, after all, what Christianity is all about: the forgiveness of our sins. This is why Jesus came to die on the cross for us, so that our sins could be forgiven.

You see, in the Old Testament system of sacrifices, there was forgiveness only for sins which had been committed inadvertently. There was no forgiveness for sins committed deliberately. In the case of David, Nathan declared that God had forgiven David his sins with Bathsheba and Uriah, but that was a special forgiveness, which was not part of the whole sacrificial system of Old Testament Judaism. But even though David’s life was spared, that of his innocent son was not.

In the New Testament, however, Jesus himself forgives sins on a number of occasions, and not just in today’s passage from the Gospel. And note that he is not just declaring that God has forgiven people’s sins, as Nathan had done with David. No, he himself forgives those sins. And in Jesus, we also have forgiveness.

In Lima we are trying to spread the good news of God’s forgiveness of our sins. Help us to continue to spread that Good News. Amen.

Bruce, I should like to present St Andrew’s with this arpillera as our gift to you. this is an example of traditional 3-D embroidery done in Peru, and this piece is a product of a project sponsored by our Cathedral.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Third after Pentecost, June 13, 2010

We will welcome to St. Andrew's this Sunday, June 13, the Very Rev. John Park and his wife Susan, who come to us from Lima, Peru, where John is Dean of the Cathedral Church of the Good Shepherd. Dean Park will preach at both services, 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., and he and Susan will be our speakers at the "Coffee and Conversation" program at 10 a.m.

Our Coffee Hour Reception is hosted by the St. Andrew's Five Talents Prayer Circle, an outreach ministry of prayer and support which is focused on the work in Lima, Peru, of Five Talents, an international micro-credit ministry dedicated to the material and spiritual support of the poor around the world.

About Five Talents

About Five Talents in Peru

John and Susan: Welcome to St. Andrew's!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Second after Pentecost, 2010

RCL Proper 5C I Kings 17:: 8-24; Galatians 1: 11-24; Luke 7: 11-17

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin . . . .

Grace and peace to you this morning, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ—this lovely spring morning, and now a week after the Memorial Day weekend something of our first step into the summer season.

Felt like it this week with the humidity and those wild late afternoon thunderstorms. Pam and Vince Stassola were busy having their baby Wednesday evening, and they were thinking maybe they should name him Thor, after the Norse Thunder-god. Or in any case that his nickname will be “Storm.” Storm Stassola. Weatherman for Channel 2, or maybe he’ll skate for the Penguins . . . . In all that, with prayers and good thoughts that the season is and will be a good one for you and a time in all the busyness of our lives of refreshment and renewal. Whether that takes place at the shore or on the mountaintop or on the front porch. A season of rich blessings.

All sermons have three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. I guess this is going to be one of those sermons with a somewhat longer rambling beginning and then a shorter middle and an even shorter conclusion. I hope you’ll just bear with me. --

In the midst of what has been a heavy couple of weeks for us in our family, and with so much sadness, as many of you know of course, in the tragic death of Susy’s sister Marion, and everything that unfolds from that.

In all of that, the blessing that we have known of your friendship and love and prayers and such wonderful kindness that has surrounded us in so many ways. I remember a few years ago our Outreach Committee lifted up a mission statement and theme: “putting God’s love into action.” And that is certainly what all of St. Andrew’s has been for us.

And I would mention as well that Bishop Ken and Mariann Price and many clergy colleagues and their spouses and friends around the diocese and I would say around “both dioceses,” in our current untidy situation, have reached out as well with affection and care. All that has meant so much to us. Cards, letters, phone calls, words of friendship, good and caring thoughts. In the context of course of other losses so recently. Murray Rust’s dad; Mary Roehrich’s mom.

It is as the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins says, “the plight man was born for.” Certainly familiar in deep ways to all of us in the texture of our lives. Time like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away.

So one of the things we have been doing the last couple of weeks in our family has been telling stories. One of the stories, of the Friday evening thirty years and two weeks ago when our families gathered with friends at the Johnson family Church, the Berkeley Evangelical Covenant Church, for the celebration of Bruce and Susy’s wedding.

Which was a great moment, believe me. Marion was there, of course. Six months pregnant with our niece Anne-Marie, who would be born with a lot of drama prematurely a week later. Anne-Marie and her new husband Joe just stayed overnight with us this past week on their way home to California from Massachusetts.

And in an amazing convergence—really that just kind of boggles my mind—we received at home this week a phone call from a young woman, Dawn Anderson Perkins, who is the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Craig Anderson, who was pastor of Berkeley Covenant and the officiant at our wedding and a wonderful friend and counselor in all ways. And Dawn left the message, “I’m married now, and my husband and daughter and I moved to Pennsylvania and are living in Strabane, and my dad is coming up to visit this week, and we’d like to come to your church on Sunday.”

Which was just wonderful news for us, of course. Though I want to say also a little intimidating for me, since Craig is truly one of the finest preachers and teachers, scholars and pastors, that I’ve ever known.

A wonderful parish minister and then a leader in wider Covenant Church. One of the people who was and actually continues to be very much an inspiration for me in my ministry. And I think to myself, what would Craig do with the Widow of Zerephath, or with these words of Paul to the Galatians, or with the story of Jesus and the Widow’s Son? And I know it would be a sermon I for sure would want to hear.

–Again, a little intimidating, even after all these long years! In any event, you'll need to settle for a few of my observations:

Begin by noticing that the Widow of Zarephath really has only the foggiest idea about this wild Israelite holy man who has wandered into town. Would we say she’s Lebanese? A little anachronistic. Perhaps she’s a descendant of those ancient Canaanites--but the point is, a different ethnicity anyway, different religion, different culture. She’s respectful, or maybe even more we might say she is superstitious about Elijah, and with some cautious reservation allows him into her home. You don’t want to get on his wrong side, that’s for sure. He might give you the evil eye or something. But the amazing situation of the flour and oil gives her something to think about in a good way. In a time of draught and famine, once he’s under her roof there always seems to be enough to get by. Definitely a powerful guy. But what is she to make of him? Still very much a mystery.

And of course Jesus, in the Galilee, in the passage from St. Luke that Jean just read for us. Who was he? What was he about? A celebrity, famous preacher, miracle worker. But is there more? And what to make of all these stories—especially when the local rabbis don’t seem to think much of him. What to make of him?

The Prophet of the LORD; the Messiah of Israel. The point for us to notice I guess, what I’ve been noticing this week, is that in both of these passages the identity and purpose and character and authority and validity, if we can use that word, the reality of God’s presence is made known and demonstrated not by titles and offices, diplomas on the wall, whatever, but by deeds of power. God himself made present in direct and compelling ways. Changing things. Making a difference.

Elijah is known not by his holy-man uniform but by the dramatic resuscitation and healing of the Widow’s son.

And where Jesus is, the dead can’t stay dead. Remembering the words from St. John’s gospel. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Not just words, but Word made flesh. Sacrament. Incarnation. God here and now.

That's the middle of the sermon. And now the brief conclusion: The good tree puts forth good fruit. Perhaps a little indirect. But I feel that this morning in your presence. Not just words, but what Paul later in this Letter to the Galatians calls the “fruit of the spirit”—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. In all the spiritual power of the life we share in this Christian community.

Not just to talk about Christ, but to know his presence, to shine with the light of his radiance. What brings us together week by week and day by day, in hope, and about these moments of eucharist, coming to the table this morning, when we taste for a moment the feast of the kingdom.

Knowing Jesus and the power of his cross and the hope of his resurrection to change our lives and to lift us into his presence. Putting the love of God into action. Forgiveness. Healing. New life. Not something we do or make happen, but what he is doing in us, through us. God at work. The living presence of Jesus, who said, I am the vine, you are the branches.

So Craig, thanks for the way you have been that for me and Susy and our family these many years. And thank all of you, again, for your prayers, friendship, encouragement and your inspiration. Christ working in us to do more amazing things than we could ever ask for or imagine.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Friday Afternoon Wedding

Holy Matrimony
Jennifer Marie Soltesz and Rikin Harivadan Pandya
I Corinthians 13

Jennifer and Rikin, what I want to say first to you, and I know I’m speaking for all the family and friends gathered here this afternoon, is thank you.

It is for us all, and for me personally, a privilege and a joy to be sharing this moment with you, to be with you as you exchange the vows and promises, the words, and the commitments of the heart, that will make you one, before God and in the face of this company, as husband and wife.

Here now, and then later this afternoon as prayers and blessings from Rikin’s family’s Hindu tradition will be offered as well. It’s a great day! I know you have been thinking about it and planning for it for a year or more now, and I know it has been a long year with both many blessings and also many changes and challenges for you.

You and your families have been very busy these past few weeks--and now here we are. And so, congratulations to you, and with so many blessings upon you as you now step forward into this new chapter of your life.

As you know, the distinctive geographical feature of Pittsburgh is how the great Allegheny River, flowing down from the north from New York and Lake Erie, and the great Monongahela, rolling westward from the mountains of West Virginia, come together down at Point State Park to form the headwaters of the Ohio, as it begins its 1,000 mile course down to Illinois and the confluence with the Mississippi. One of the great rivers of the world. So we are here the place of Three Rivers. And so to me Pittsburgh seems very much like the perfect place for you two to get married.

You bring to this marriage of course your individuality and personality, character and values. Two accomplished and mature and thoughtful people, with your own rich and complicated life stories. And then your families, your cultural and religious and social backgrounds: two great streams, flowing together in the creation of something new. Built on the foundation of love, of shared interests, goals, and so importantly of strong friendship.

In all this, the lesson that you selected, from the New Testament Book of First Corinthians, is a wonderful and very appropriate reading for this day.

It is first of all a love song, about truly the greatest gift that God gives us, and a poetic reminder of both the care God has for us, and of our call to live always with one another in that same spirit of humility and tenderness.

Love is patient and kind, and certainly as we know God’s patience and kindness in our own lives over and over again, so we are called to be patient and kind people ourselves.

And to know that especially in our marriages and in our family life, with our husband or wife, our children, our parents, to reflect God’s love in that way. Patience and kindness. A spirit of deep mutual respect. --A recipe for a successful marriage, and in those moments of our lives, as we would understand through that we are in this world catching a glimpse of the deep love, the passion and the compassion, that is at the heart of God’s life, and that we are all ultimately destined for.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends . . . .

It is a beautiful poem, a beautiful image, for this beautiful day, and, I would simply offer the thought that the gift of this moment is one that doesn’t ever need to wear out or to be exchanged. It’s the best gift of all, the richest of all blessings, a life-changing gift, and one that will last for a lifetime.

In the midst of this I’m reminded that in the Old Testament Book of Exodus there is one of my favorite Bible stories, about a moment of life-changing experience, a “vocational” moment, a transformational moment-- in a way kind of like a wedding. Young Moses is working for his Father in Law, tending his sheep out in the wilderness, and one day he sees something off in the distance that looks strange to him. He moves closer and finally comes to this great big tree or bush that is on fire, fully engulfed in flames, burning and burning—but no matter how long it burns, it doesn’t burn out.

He watches for a while, amazed at the sight, and then all at once a great, deep voice comes from the flame. (I like to think it was the voice of James Earl Jones.) “Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” Holy Ground.

Now, Rikin and Jennifer, we don’t need to take that literally, and you can keep your shoes on. But we would remember that in the vows and promises you make today, in God’s sight and in the presence of these friends and family members, the ground under our feet is consecrated, and made holy. That God’s holy presence is with you, surrounding you, above you, and beneath your feet, with richness and blessing.

All the prayers and blessings of this day don’t just happen here, in this one moment of a wedding, but they go out with you into your marriage and life together, from this day forward, and will be around you and under you and with you all the days of your life. Here in Pittsburgh, and New York City, and wherever your life takes you, holy ground. And it is my and our best prayer for you that in God’s love you will continue to experience his love and his blessing always, and that your life together will be a catalyst, an inspiration, for that sense of God’s goodness to be known by others. That you will be blessed, and that you will be a blessing. As you already are. So many adventures, from this day forward.

Now as Jennifer and Rikin come to the altar to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, I would ask all of us to bow our heads for a moment to offer a prayer and all our good thoughts and blessings, for them, for their protection and their encouragement, their joy, in all that God has in store for them in the days and years ahead.

Bruce Robison